Is it Time for a Tune-Up?

We’re going to start today with a brief history lesson, the term “tune-up” applies only to cars built prior to 1981, without an electronic ignition system. The rule of thumb was to get a tune-up every 15,000 – 20,000 miles. For vehicles without an electronic ignition system, a tune-up consisted of replacing the spark plugs, ignition contact points, rotor, distributor cap, adjusting the ignition timing, as well as the carburetor.

On modern vehicles built after 1981, equipped with an electronic ignition system, fuel injection and computer controls, the term “engine performance maintenance” would be the correct term (even though everyone refers to it as a tune-up). The new process consists of inspection, computer diagnosis, testing and adjustment to maintain peak engine performance, maximum operating efficiency and low exhaust emissions. During this process, spark plugs, plug wires, sensors, and modules may be replaced. The frequency at which a newer vehicle needs a tune-up is dependent more upon driving conditions than mileage and recommended tune-up frequencies vary between 30,000 – 100,000 miles, depending on the manufacturer. To learn how often your vehicle needs a tune-up, check your owner’s manual.

If you are a do-it-yourselfer there are some tools you are going to need to “tune-up” your vehicle. Below we outline the most common tools and a few of the less common tools.

Most Common Tools and their Uses

Ratchet: Used to loosen and tighten the spark plugs, as well as loosen any bolts that are in the way of completing the job.

Socket Set: Used in conjunction with the ratchet to perform the same tasks as the ratchet.

Screwdrivers: Used to remove screws holding down items that need to be removed. A standard screwdriver is also used to pry small items in tight areas.

Spark Plug Gap Tool: This tool is used to measure the gap of the spark plug to ensure it is what the manufacturer recommends. This tool is also used to change the gap of certain spark plugs.

Torque Wrench: This tool is used to torque the spark plugs, as well as other bolts, to the manufacturer’s specifications.

Collapsible Magnet: This tool is a magnet on the end of an extendable rod. This tool is used to remove the spark plugs from hard to reach areas as well as bolts and screws that may be dropped in small crevices.

Spark Plug Socket: This is a socket designed specifically to remove spark plugs. It typically has a rubber insert at the top to “grab” the spark plug so it does not fall off while removing or placing the spark plug.

Electrical Grease: This is grease that conducts electricity. It is used on electrical contacts to prevent them from rusting, therefore keeping a good current flow.

Anti Seize: A coating used on the spark plugs to make certain they do not seize to the engine. This makes them easier to remove the next time you perform a tune up.

Digital Camera: Yes a digital camera is great for tune ups so you can take a before picture to ensure you put everything back the way it is supposed to go.

Extendable Mirror: This is a flexible mirror on an extendable rod. This is used to see into those areas that are in a place you cannot see from the top of the engine.

Less Common Tools and their Uses

Spark Tester: This tool is used to test the spark coming from the ignition wire to ensure the spark is getting to the plug.

Feeler gauge: This is generally used for setting the points of an older vehicle. Years ago, this was a very common tool for a tune up, but with new cars not having point, it has become less common.

Timing light: This tool is primarily used on older vehicles. It is used to check the timing of the vehicle is correct after performing the tune up.

If you have any questions about these specific tools, please ask us! You can leave your questions in the comments below or call us directly at 1-417-358-1919(outside of the US) or at 1-877-880-4056(inside the US).

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Mack Hanson is a professional automotive tool specialist with National Tool Warehouse and Mechanics Tools Warehouse. He writes about Auto Repair, Auto Performance, Motorcycle Performance and General Maintenance.

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